Mar. 13, 2013 - Issue #908: In Your Face
The silver screen shoots on so relentlessly these days that, with not one but three Korean directors hitting Hollywood this year, it already seems forever ago that the unholy trinity—Bong Joon-ho (Mother), Kim Ji-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters) and Park Chan-wook (Oldboy)—was setting film-fest red carpets ablaze as torchbearers for a new, populist Korean wave of stylish, smart horror and revenge-action flicks.
Oldboy's best known, blessed in 2004 by the West's king of genre remixes, Quentin Tarantino (president of the Cannes jury, awarding it the Grand Prix). Ten years later, it's getting its Western remake at the hands of Spike Lee, even as its writer-director makes his English-language debut with Stoker. So now, its blood dried a decade after it loudly splattered onto the scene, does the middle chapter (loosely adapted from a Japanese manga) in Park's Vengeance Trilogy still glisten and glower?
Squid-ink-black comedy still oozes through the film's beginning, where a drunk-tanked bit of an oaf, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), is mysteriously abducted and imprisoned in a small room; he grows more wretched, the television his only friend and lover even after it's told him that his wife's been found murdered with his fingerprints at the scene. Dae-su's dogged plan for vengeance—chipping away at the walls of his prison from 1988 to 2003—is delivered in a clipped voiceover and some stabbing shots. (Memory, it turns out, is like videotape, with trauma on re-run unless it's erased—maybe—by hypnosis.) Wall-hardened by the time of his mysterious release, Dae-su stutteringly devours violence and life—the famous scene where he eats a squirming octopus—like a newly freed, near-catatonic wild child.
There's a baroque, operatic quality to Oldboy—even the (also justly famous) hallway battle is a wide-canvas, Bosch-like painting of primal, pent-up rage. Still, its mid-section does get a little flabby and scuzzy; the plot slicks into surveillance-thriller fare for a time. But the vengeance here's a clever, evolving beast. Dae-su's guardian-like enemy stokes his bloodlust, embittering the free man's returning love of life. The climax is a scarlet swelling into Greek tragedy as truth, reprisal and justice smear. Revenge turns out to be the nightmare-dark side of empathy—where you make another feel just how tormented and trapped and wounded you've felt for so long.
Tue, Mar 19 (7 pm)
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Originally released: 2003
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